29 Sep 2014

Seeing in monochrome: Talat Phlu Photowalk

One of the goals I set at the beginning of the year to improve and broaden my photography was learning to see in monochrome, sharpening my eye to recognize and find black and white scenes around me, not just relying on post-processing to achieve that look in the computer. I have been converting more files to monochrome lately, but those were always envisioned and captured as color files at the beginning, and only turned into greyscale later on, to see if they would work that way or not. Many of them did, in fact, but it had always remain an afterthought. Today there was a photowalk in a neighborhood of my city that I had never been to, so I decided this was as good an opportunity as any to reverse my way of shooting and actively see and look for monochromes from the start.

Slow motions, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Afternoon shift, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I always shoot in RAW, but today I set the picture style of the camera to monochrome, so the screen and viewfinder showed all in black and white, but the images captured still have all the color information; only the preview is black and white, which is very handy as it helps visualizing the scenes directly as you intend them to be and that helps understanding much better the dynamics of light and shadow that govern most monochrome images. It was early afternoon, the light was quite harsh and the shadows deep black, so pre-visualizing the captures as monochromes in-camera really helped me to see in terms of contrast around me and, therefore, create stronger images.

My home by the tracks I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
My home by the tracks II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Arched station, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
We started off at Talat Phlu BTS station, and slowly made our way to Wongwian Yai Station, around 3 kilometers away, which was the ending point of the itinerary. The walk started crossing a local, busy neighborhood along the main road, full of businesses, traffic and markets, but soon we left the broad street to go into a quieter community, crossed by winding, narrow alleyways and dark, open passages. Silence came upon us and our feet became slower and more acute. But the real point of interest of the whole walk was not the place itself but rather the people inhabiting those quarters, their tasks and routines, their homes and chores. Their daily lives.

The queue, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Figuring out, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Divergent directions, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The bench, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Textures of time, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Healthy habit, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I saw people working in the heat of the sun and in the shade of their open houses, people lining up to purchase some food and people walking to unknown places, people awaiting and people enjoying a break with a companion (a cigarette, a book). There was people taking a nap in the open, people eating and some people feeding others; there were kids on their own, and kids well guarded. People of all ages doing the things we all do everyday, unperturbed by our foreign presence.

Discomfort, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Guarded siesta, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Lunch, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Dinner, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Prince of the street, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The joy of childhood, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There was human presence everywhere; after all, Bangkok is an overly populated city, and not encountering people anywhere you go would actually be the surprising thing. But, as interesting and varied, diverse and appealing all the people we passed along our way were, I kept sensing elusive glimpses of life that was not fully seen, traces of sound, of breathing, of humanity hidden behind the open doors and windows, under the light of bright bulbs, in front of loud TV's. There were more people around that I could fully see, they were just there, meters from me, yet they remained disguised and covered, hidden from my view even though I could feel them so near, or spot them as tiny figures in the distance.

The missing pieces I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The missing pieces II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Human scope, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There are days when you see nothing, and days when you find stories at every step you take. Today was one of the latter: there were more beats than I could catch, since I had to go along at the group's pace for fear or getting lost behind. Notwithstanding, I really enjoyed the walk, and the fact that I visualized the whole time in monochrome made the consequent post-processing stage much easier. Upon importing the pictures into the computer, I immediately converted them all into black and white, so I have never seen any of the captures from this day in color. I might, one day, since I keep all RAW files, but that was not the point of the exercise: I saw in monochrome, therefore that's how my memories have been forged. My photographs have no choice but to follow.

The hand that knotted the rope, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm

18 Sep 2014

500px Global Photo Walk 2014: Bangkok edition

For the second straight year, the photography site 500px organized their "Annual Global Photo Walk" in numerous cities around the world on the same day: Saturday, September 6th. After last year's humble but enjoyable photowalk (which you can check out here), this year things became a bit bigger: our itinerary was longer and, in the end, we gathered a group of roughly 30 walkers, tripling last year's number. Since we are in the middle of the monsoon season in Thailand, we set the meeting time at 14:00, because the downpours usually start late in the afternoon. We all met at Bang Wa BTS Station and, from there, we hop on a local mini bus to reach the beginning of our walk, 10 minutes away: Khlong Baan Luang.

Khlong Baan Luang, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Restaurant with views, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Running water, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
This is a small, traditional neighborhood that stretches out on both sides of the canal, consisting mostly of humble, wooden houses and bridges connecting both banks. Strolling along these narrow alleyways is an exercise of relax and quietness, for you will walk literally through the houses of the people who inhabit these quarters, and you will see how they perform their daily chores, unperturbed by passing people mere centimeters from their open doors. But the real landmark of the neighborhood awaits just a hundred meters ahead: Baan Silapin, the Artist's House.

The puppet I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The puppet II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The puppet III, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Baan Silapin is a beautiful example of traditional Thai architecture, all built with wood forming a 2-storeyd L shape. The house, about 200 years old, underwent a respectful renovation some years back and now is the center of the community, because it hosts an ancient pagoda in its backyard (which dates from the Ayutthaya period), as well as being a traditional Puppet theater and art gallery all at once. The ground floor accommodates the stage, which sits in the garden, next to the centuries-old pagoda, and every afternoon the Puppets are brought to life by masked artists. In the second floor you will find the gallery, where they show the paintings made by local artists.

Initiation, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Cozy seat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The audience, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The house remains open for everybody to visit and there is no ticket required, but they can carry on with their activities thanks to the generous donations made by all visitors, so a contribution is very welcomed. People of all ages, both local and foreigners, gather in the small space provided to enjoy the show; being in such an old, historical environment spectating an almost lost tradition in the hands of new generations is a nice experience; but traditions must be updated in order to survive through the ages, and this one is no exception, for a new act has been added to the Puppet theater: a tribal dance performed by a group of young kids dressed as Africans.

The calm before the storm I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The calm before the storm II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ready, steady..., GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Walking further down the canal you will soon reach the second landmark of the neighborhood: Wat Kamphaeng. The old capital of Siam used to be on this side of the river, called Thonburi, so it's no surprise to find, scattered around this vast area, plenty of ancient ruins and temples from that era. Wat Kamphaeng is one of them, and it is preserved in quite a good condition. It's well worth it walking around its grounds, hearing all the little bells tickling, hanging from the high eaves.

Wat Kamphaeng I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Wat Kamphaeng II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Old and new I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Old and new II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Since modern development of Bangkok mainly happened on the other side of the river, Thonburi has remained mostly undeveloped and only recently this has started to change: signs of things to come are already sprouting everywhere, from high-rise condos to the extension of the BTS line coming from downtown Bangkok. Even though the neighborhood still maintains its local, traditional flavor, and you will see plenty of small barber shops and community-focused businesses, you will also spot new concrete structures rising quickly above all roofs, pointing to a changing future that will sooner rather than later be present.

Street market, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Communion of purpose, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Colors vs. greys, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The dump, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The future coming I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The future coming II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Before long, it started raining, as we all feared, so the group dismantled and the Global Photo Walk came to an end. Last year we also had a few raindrops, but in that occasion it was just at the beginning. Maybe rain is our particular signature, so may many more showers come in the future, and see you all again next year, if not before!